Nineveh’s Regression

Scripture Focus: Nahum 2.13
13 “I am against you,” 
declares the Lord Almighty. 
“I will burn up your chariots in smoke, 
and the sword will devour your young lions. 
I will leave you no prey on the earth. 
The voices of your messengers 
will no longer be heard.”

Mark 4.9
9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” 

Reflection: Nineveh’s Regression
By John Tillman

About 150 years after Jonah’s visit, Nahum writes to Ninevah with exactly the kind of message Jonah wished to carry: “The Lord is against you. You’re going to burn.” The city that once experienced the fires of revival would experience the fires of judgment.

Jonah’s warning to Ninevah had an unexpected, and for Jonah, undesired, effect. Repentance swept the streets. People from the king down to the lowest servants turned to God and mourned their past sins. Jonah condemned their spiritual ignorance, yet God had compassion for people “who cannot tell their right hand from their left.” (Jonah 4.11)

It was a shocking outcome. An empire that grew fat on evil, fasted and mourned. A city considered a lost cause, was saved. People Jonah hoped would taste God’s wrath, tasted his mercy. But eventually, Ninevah regressed.

We don’t know how long the effects of the revival recorded in Jonah endured. Perhaps that generation of Ninevites continued in repentance and it was the next generation that returned to sinfulness. Perhaps they went “back to normal” a week after the disaster was averted. Either way, we can draw a lesson for ourselves. May we not find ourselves in the position of the Ninevites who once tasted mercy, then spat it out to gulp down rebellion instead.

When we repent, let us make sure that it is not just surface repentance to avoid the catastrophe some Jonah-like prophet warns us of. Repentance and humbling ourselves are continual practices in the Christian faith, not one-time events. Let us repent and continue to repent. To reform and continue to reform.

God’s still in the business of forgiving those we would condemn and having mercy on those we would castigate. He’s still redeeming lost causes and lost cities. But he is also running out the clock on the evil and will not leave the wicked unpunished. No matter how far gone someone is, we shouldn’t write them off, because God may be in the process of writing them into his story. However, there does come a time when God allows people to write themselves out.

Unrepentant evil will be crushed, regardless of whether it is found in Ninevah, Jerusalem, or in our modern cities or churches. The Lord is still for us. Let us seek him while he may be found and hear him while our ears can hear and our hearts can respond. (Isaiah 6.9-10, 55.6; Mark 4.9)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path. — Psalm 119.105

Today’s Readings
Nahum 2 (Listen – 2:06)
Mark 4 (Listen – 5:01)

Read more about Becoming Light
Help us not be like those who are of the dark.
They are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.

Read more about Rumors or Repentance
The Jordan, where John baptized, is a river of decision. Will you cross over or not?  Will you repent? Will you enter the Kingdom of Heaven or not?

Leaders Sent by God

Scripture Focus: Micah 6.2-4
2 “Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; 
listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. 
For the Lord has a case against his people; 
he is lodging a charge against Israel. 
3 “My people, what have I done to you? 
How have I burdened you? Answer me. 
4 I brought you up out of Egypt 
and redeemed you from the land of slavery. 
I sent Moses to lead you, 
also Aaron and Miriam. 

Mark 1.7-8
7 “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

Reflection: Leaders Sent by God
By John Tillman

God points out Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, the human leaders he sent to guide Israel out of slavery to freedom.

The people God uses are never perfect. Moses had a violent temper, both as a young man and near the end of his life. Aaron built the golden calf and then lied about it. Miriam criticized Moses’ interracial marriage and was cursed for it.

It’s good to recognize God uses imperfect people. If we sin and repent, God can still forgive and bless others through us. But how far does that go? Do we give a pass to pastors with frequent outbursts of temper and violent speech? Do we excuse leaders who accept cultural idols of the moment? Do we defend racist comments? “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (Romans 6.1-2)

Moses, Aaron, and Miriam were confronted about those sins and repented. No one made excuses. For those leaders who continue in sins, Micah has another example—Balaam. 

Not only will God use well-intentioned but imperfect leaders in our lives, he will use outright enemies. God can turn enemies’ evil intentions into good outcomes. For leaders inside or outside our churches who are unrepentant, the best we can hope is that like Balaam, God will somehow turn their evil into good.

God continues to use imperfect men and women to lead his people but he has gone even further than that, sending to us his own son, Jesus.

John the Baptizer was one of those imperfect leaders God sent. He said of Jesus, “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” We are not worthy either. With what can we come before the Lord? 

Micah asks, “will the Lord be pleased…” with any extravagant offering? No. Even Micah’s simplest definition of God’s requirements is beyond us. (Micah 6.8) Our justice is tainted. Our mercy is rarely given. Our humility gives way to pride. 

Therefore, God has offered his own firstborn for the sin of our souls. (Micah 6.7) Jesus has acted justly on our behalf, has loved mercy enough to die for us, and walks humbly before God appealing to us. He not only saves us but leads us.

What more could God do for us than this? Will we remember or will we turn away?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine our of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

Today’s Readings
Micah 6 (Listen – 2:28)
Mark 1 (Listen – 5:05)

This Weekend’s Readings
Micah 7 (Listen – 3:36)Mark 2 (Listen – 3:55)
Nahum 1 (Listen – 2:24)Mark 3 (Listen – 3:41)

Read more about Complaints and Responses
Moses took these personal attacks to heart, growing angry rather than compassionate toward the people’s legitimate needs.

Read more about A Bad Day Fishing
Peter’s first recorded words to Jesus in response to the miracle are “go away.”
Peter seems to believe that his sins disqualify him.

Representative Combat

Scripture Focus: Micah 5.1b-2
…They will strike Israel’s ruler 
on the cheek with a rod. 

2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, 
though you are small among the clans of Judah, 
out of you will come for me 
one who will be ruler over Israel, 
whose origins are from of old, 
from ancient times.”

Reflection: Representative Combat
By John Tillman

When Elon Musk challenged Putin to a fight over Ukraine, few thought, “That’s a good idea.” And it’s not just because we were afraid Musk might lose. In our individualistic society, we are unlikely to agree that one person can represent us as a group.

People strongly identified with their nation, their king, or their gods in less individualistic eras. This is one of the reasons representative combat made more sense in those cultures. We see this in the example of David fighting Goliath.

In the Bible, names of people or places are often used as an appellation for the entire nation or group. They might be called, Israel, Judah, David, the root of Jesse, Jerusalem, Zion, Samaria, the name of the current king, etc. The leader or city was the nation and the nation was the leader or city. When tribes revolted against Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, they said, “What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son?” (1 Kings 12.16) It was a ripping apart—a separation of identities.

We still use names this way linguistically but I doubt we feel as unified emotionally. We still refer to the United States as Washington, the White House, or the name of the current president. We are likely to refer to other countries using similar appellations: Moscow, Downing Street, Macron… But if a leader is disrespected, “struck on the cheek with a rod,” we might be angry on his or her behalf but most wouldn’t feel as if we were struck. Language changes slowly. Hearts change in an instant. Culture changes somewhere in between.

When we do choose a representative in important matters we want a “winner.” We want someone important, impressive, and powerful to show up. Micah’s description of a ruler coming from the humble town of Bethlehem is an upending of that.

If we are to have any part in God’s kingdom, we must bind our identity to Jesse’s son, the humble Jesus, born in Bethlehem. Jesus is our representative, our “David,” the true Israel—the one who struggles and overcomes in an unexpected, upside-down way. If the appellation, “Christian” applies, then when Jesus is struck on the cheek, we are. When Jesus dies, crucified, we die. When Jesus slays the Goliath of sin and death, we rout them at his side.

If we hesitate to identify with Jesus, humble and crucified, nothing else he did will be credited to us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
My mouth shall recount your mighty acts and saving deeds all day long; though I cannot know the number of them. — Psalm 71.15

Today’s Readings
Micah 5 (Listen – 2:21)
John 21 (Listen – 3:58)

Read more about Unto Us, He Comes
He comes to the victims and perpetrators of war and conflict, bringing them peace.
Unto us, he comes.

Read more about Christ, the True Hero
As Christians, it is more important that we realize that we need a hero than that we pledge to be one.

Already But Not Yet

Scripture Focus: Micah 4.3-4
3 He will judge between many peoples
    and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.
4 Everyone will sit under their own vine
    and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
    for the Lord Almighty has spoken.

John 20.21-22
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Reflection: Already But Not Yet
By Erin Newton

The Israelites were rebuked for their idolatry, injustice, envy, theft, false prophets, and sexual immorality. They were about to reap the consequences of their sin, but God did not leave them in despair. This window of hope is a glimpse into the mercy of God. They would need these words in the hard days ahead. 

They were forced to be exiles. Suffering and warfare were before them. The mercy and love of God moved the prophet to declare that God will restore them in that day. The forecast of peace is a balm to those who know calamity is coming. 

It is a vision of a heavenly future: fair justice, cessation of warfare, peace. Fear is abolished. People can rest and sleep under the trees. Weapons of war are turned into agricultural tools. It is a transition from death-dealing to life-giving activities. 

In that day, peace will come. It was a future event, something for the Israelites to cling to as they persevered in suffering. It is sometimes called “The Day of the Lord” and usually depicts an apocalyptic time of worldwide peace and restoration under the reign of God alone. 

It is good to hope for the future reign of peace. It can be a comfort in times of turmoil to know that the world will not always be full of injustice and war. Death will turn into life. That day will come with the full restoration of peace and justice that we see in the end of Revelation.  Whispers of the future are scattered throughout the prophetic books. However, that day has not been entirely fulfilled. 

Even though we long for that day, do we just sit around and wait for God to intervene? What do we do today? It is a day that is already but not yet, partially fulfilled in the coming of Jesus and his death and resurrection.

John 20 tells us how Jesus breathed on the disciples and they received the Holy Spirit. Just like the breath that gave life in the Garden of Eden, new life is given to the disciples. They are then commissioned to go and give life to others. 

The commission of Christ demands that we cease combativeness and pursue restoration. We have an opportunity to bring a glimpse of this future peace into reality today. Jesus commands us to bring life now.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise him, all creatures here below; praise him above, you heavenly hosts; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. — Traditional Doxology

Today’s Readings
Micah 4 (Listen – 2:33)
John 20 (Listen – 4:17)

Read more about God Is The Hero, not Us
We are separated from God by our sins, yet he is with us and longing for us at the same time. The already and the not yet are side-by-side.

Read more about Restoration Begins
Restoration begins with repentance. Exile and slavery are not the end for God’s people. They’re more like a restart.

Turn Out the Lights

Scripture Focus: Micah 3.5-9
​​5 This is what the Lord says: 
“As for the prophets 
who lead my people astray, 
they proclaim ‘peace’ 
if they have something to eat, 
but prepare to wage war against anyone 
who refuses to feed them. 
6 Therefore night will come over you, without visions, 
and darkness, without divination. 
The sun will set for the prophets, 
and the day will go dark for them. 
7 The seers will be ashamed 
and the diviners disgraced. 
They will all cover their faces 
because there is no answer from God.” 
8 But as for me, I am filled with power, 
with the Spirit of the Lord, 
and with justice and might, 
to declare to Jacob his transgression, 
to Israel his sin. 

Reflection: Turn Out the Lights
By John Tillman

The prophets who opposed Micah said pleasant things. Micah did not. 

They leaned on God’s unconditional love for his people and leaned away from talking about the nation’s sins. They promised peace at home and victory at war. “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.” (Micah 3.11) Because of this, they were trusted by kings and political figures and had the ears of the powerful and the wealthy. Glory and wealth and food and fame were their rewards.

Micah attacked his prophetic opponents, political powers, and the people with no-holds-barred truth. Micah did this even though he lived under the rule of Hezekiah, one of the best kings in Judah’s history. (Sin still exists! Even under leaders we think are “good”!) Despite living under a “good king” Micah was loud, angry, and abrasive about sin in high places. 

Micah’s writing doesn’t mention threats on his life, but killing him must have at least been discussed in the halls of power. Many years later, when Jehoiakim’s government was about to kill Jeremiah on a treason charge, Micah was brought up in Jeremiah’s defense. They basically said, “How can we kill Jeremiah for his offensive prophecies when Hezekiah didn’t kill Micah for his?” (Jeremiah 26.16-19)

Micah’s opponents faced no such threats. They enjoyed the favor of their chosen audience rather than the favor of God. The secular and religious prophets that serve our culture also desire glory, wealth, food, and fame. To a certain degree, we all do. 

Today’s world is so polarized that often “prophets” choose one group to comfort and one to offend. They purposely outrage one group to provoke an attack so that others will race to their defense. Christian and secular leaders do this and we should be wary of these tactics.

God punished false prophets with blindness. This means that previously they weren’t blind. God covered false prophets with darkness. This means they used to enjoy his light.

This kind of judgment still happens today and can happen to us. If we ignore the light long enough, God will blind us. If we attack every prophet who says something we find offensive, we’ll never be at peace.

In choosing prophets that please us, we will soon find ourselves ashamed in the dark and isolated from the God we stopped listening to.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations. — Psalm 61.5

Today’s Readings
Micah 3 (Listen – 1:51)
John 19 (Listen – 6:23)

Read more about The Losers Who Write History
May we learn to listen to “losers” and…dissenting voices, testing every “prophecy” against scripture.

Read more about How to Read Prophetic Judgment
Judgment-filled prophecy is one case in scripture where it is safer to assume it’s about you than others.